Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation. By Zane C. Hodges. Dallas and Grand Rapids: Redención Viva and Zondervan Publishing House, 1989. 238 pp. Cloth, $14.95.
If salvation is an important subject to Christians (and it is!), this is a very important book. Zondervan was wise to publish both sides of the current controversy over so-called “Lordship Salvation.” This volume by my former Greek professor and later co-editor of The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text is a specific answer to The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur. Absolutely Free! is jointly published by Redención Viva, a Dallas-based publishing house founded by Hodges and his fellow-pastor, Luis Rodriguez. Even the form, trim size, gold lettering, and number of pages are similar (MacArthur is only slightly more prolix than Hodges). These are good-looking, well-bound books.
The author told this reviewer that his primary goal was to write a popular-style, easy-to-read book, and yet, secondly, one with scholarly notes in the back that, while not impeding the progress of the average reader, would satisfy the further demands of the preacher, seminary and Bible College professor, and the more studious person.
Hodges has succeeded admirably on both counts. This is not a dry-as-dust theological tome, but an interesting, practical book. I especially appreciated the full notes, several from Luther and Calvin, showing clearly that it is the “salvation-by-commitment” people, not the sola gratia people, who have broken faith with the great Reformers. By now we hope everyone knows that just because a church, preacher, or professor is labeled “Lutheran,” “Presbyterian,” or “Reformed” does not guarantee that Luther or Calvin would approve of what is being taught from their sacred desks!
Hodges starts his book with a chorus he heard as a teenager in a Baptist Church in Maryland:
Yes, it is absolutely free!
For God has given salvation, absolutely free!
Yes, it is absolutely free!
For God has given His great salvation, absolutely free!
In good literary style, Hodges comes full circle and ends his book with the same words.
In between, at least to this (admittedly somewhat friendly) reviewer, the author proves his contention that, indeed, salvation is absolutely free—sola gratia, by grace alone.
The main thrust of the book is answering the question: What is saving faith? No one will be surprised that the seven-sacrament system of Rome, the five-step way of salvation of the Churches of Christ, or the “salvation” by character of some liberals are rejected.
But in recent decades many well-meaning evangelical preachers and evangelists, appalled by the lack of commitment of many who profess to be converted, have tried to save the day by making the “entrance requirements” to the kingdom to consist not by grace through faith alone, but in repentance(as a separate step), plus faith, plus total submission to Christ’s Lordship. Another tack is to say, “Yes, we are saved by grace through faith alone,” but then to redefine believe and faith to include (by implication) repentance, submission, and perseverance in good works (or one or more of these admittedly very good things).
Hodges shows in the middle chapters of Absolutely Free! that Dr. MacArthur is wrong to equate salvation with discipleship. Ideally all Christians should submit totally and become dedicated disciples. What’s more, God has made provision for success in discipleship. But to say that there is no chance of failure to a real Christian is to overlook the many NT passages that warn Christians that theycan fail in the Christian life! Even St. Paul didn’t count himself immune from losing the laurel wreath! (1 Cor 9:27).
If we can’t know whether we are saved till the end of the road then 1 John 5:13 (“that you may know that you have eternal life”) and the faith that gave the early Christians and later Reformation martyrs courage to die (often dreadfully cruel deaths) are illusions. As Hodges points out, Calvin himself believed that assurance of salvation is a crucial and integral part of the grace of God. Who can have assurance if final salvation depends on performance?
One of the most unusual chapters in Absolutely Free! is Chapter 12, “Repentance.” Between my reading of the typescript of this book and receiving a copy of the finished product, Hodges totally rewrote this chapter.
Zane Hodges respects and recognizes the interpretation that “repentance” means a change of mind, as the word metanoia meant in classical Greek-the view of Drs. C. C. Ryrie, G. Michael Cocoris, and also the Director of the Grace Evangelical Society, Dr. Robert Wilkin. He recognizes it as consonant with the position of salvation by faith alone. However, this author sees repentance as producing a realchange of lifestyle, but not as being part of salvation.
For example, Hodges believes that Cornelius repented before he was actually saved. Also, in Revelation 2 and 3, Christians are called upon to repent. Luther is quoted as saying that a Christian’s whole life should be one of repentance (p. 143 and see footnote 1 on p. 222).
The favorite passage of the Lordship people is certainly the account of the “Rich Young Ruler,” which they try to make into a central passage for salvation! This story is handled in Chapter 14, “Why Do You Call Me Good?”
Nearly all of the main arguments of MacArthur on the Lordship Salvation issue are handled by Hodges, but without animosity, guilt by association, or other common polemical devices. Hodges is always irenic—and a Christian gentleman.
Other pluses in the present reviewer’s opinion are the two Forewords, one by Dr. Earl Radmacher, President of Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Portland and one by Luis Rodriguez of Victor St. Bible Chapel, the Scripture Index, and the many quotations from the conservative and quite literal New King James Version of the Bible. My one criticism is that the Subject Index is far too brief (I couldn’t find the Luther quotations in it, for example).
No matter where you stand on the issue of salvation, this book is worth reading. If you are in the sola gratia camp it is a must! Get it. Read it. Share it with those who are still open-minded to the grace way or with those who are tottering on the brink of a works-oriented scheme of salvation.
Arthur L. Farstad
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society